August new-home sales nationwide fell 34.5 percent from 2007, even as builders battled to reduce unsold inventory to try to get the housing slump to hit bottom.

The Department of Commerce said yesterday that sales of new single-family houses during August were at a seasonally adjusted rate of 460,000, falling 11.5 percent below July's revised 520,000-unit rate. In August 2007, the annual sales rate was 702,000 units.

The median price of a new single-family home in August was $221,000.

Nationally, 408,000 new single-family houses are for sale. At the current sales rate, it would take 10.9 months to clear that inventory.

Year-over-year sales in the West were half what they were in August 2007, as builders continued to compete with lower-priced foreclosures that make up more than half the existing-home inventory in California alone.

Because of those lower prices, sales of existing homes in the West rose 5.9 percent in August over the same month in 2007, but prices fell 23.9 percent year over year because slightly less than half of those sales were foreclosures, the National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday.

August existing-home sales in the Philadelphia region fell 25.1 percent from 2007. Prices were level, Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert reported Wednesday.

Efforts by bargain hunters to buy foreclosed properties in California, Arizona and Nevada are now being stymied by tougher credit requirements in the aftermath of the Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac takeover earlier this month.

"Some homeowners unable to afford their $400,000 mortgage payments have been buying foreclosed houses at bargain prices, obtaining loans, and then walking away from their original houses," said Philadelphia mortgage broker Fred Glick.

New rules have stopped this "buy-and-bail" trend.

The post-takeover drop in fixed interest rates appears to have been derailed by growing concerns about the efficacy of the government's proposed bailout of financial institutions.

Freddie Mac reported that 30-year fixed rates rose to 6.09 percent from last week's 5.78 percent.

"Mortgage rates followed Treasury bond yields higher this week amid market uncertainty over the current state of the economy," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist.

Year-over-year sales fell in every region. Only the Midwest saw a month-to-month increase (7.2 percent), and the South had the lowest month-to-month decline (minus 2.1 percent), Commerce figures showed.

Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or